The Simplistic Beauty that is Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused
One of my favorite films of all time is Richard Linklater’s 1993 cult classic Dazed and Confused. From its opening scene, as Pickford (Shawn Andrews) drives his iconic orange Pontiac GTO through the school parking lot to Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion”, it is clear that this film is going to be a good time. Right off the bat the audience is sucked into this world and transported to Austin Texas in 1976. From the clothing that the characters wear to the music that plays throughout the film, it is easy to find yourself wishing you could have even just a taste of what life would have been like as a high schooler in the 1970s.
The film follows a group of Texas high schoolers on their last day of school in 1976. With many of the characters going into their senior year and few who will soon enter into the wild world that is high school, they all come together seeking a party that will live on forever. The funny thing is, it has. To all of the people who continue to watch this film and geek out over its nostalgia and iconic one-liners, the party at the moontower will live on forever. Part of what makes Dazed and Confused so great is Linklater’s ability to create not only a film but an experience. When I watch this film, for that hour and forty-three minutes, I feel as if I am there with these characters. That, to me, is what makes Dazed and Confused so special and I think that is a huge part of why it still has such a dedicated following almost 30 years later.
Oddly enough, something that draws me to Dazed and Confused is the fact that it has no real plot. When it comes down to it, the only real objective that these characters have is to find a way to have a good time. Most of the film is filled with shots of the various characters driving around Austin in their attractive cars with their friends in the back. There is something that feels so natural about that. I love the way in which something so simple, and even mundane, can create a film that is enjoyed by so many. It is almost as if to say that a movie doesn’t have to be some big, extravagant event in order to be considered “good”. A film can be realistic and simple and still be loved. With Dazed and Confused, Linklater, portrays a real version of what the high school experience is like. It is in no way “done up” or glamorized in any which way, it is simply just what it is and it never tries too hard to be anything else.
Despite the film taking place over the course of a single day, all of the characters manage to be well rounded and entertaining. Each and every character (that is of the ones who have their own storyline) represent someone that we all knew in high school. Meaning, it is easy to see yourself in a lot of these characters when you really pay close enough attention. Let’s take Ron Slater (Rory Cochrane) as an example. On the outside, Slater is a stoner and a slacker; however, when you look closely, he’s just like any other high school student. He is living in the moment and taking life as it comes. He isn’t worried or stressed about what life will bring because, right now, he is completely free. Slater doesn’t have any responsibility or any real life problems because he is still just figuring himself out. Just like any other high schooler, he probably has no idea what he wants to do with his life. On the other hand, there is Randall “Pink” Flloyd (Jason London). To Pink deciding whether or not to play football next season is the biggest choice of his life. He doesn’t want to live by anyone else’s rules and if playing ball means he has to do that, he refuses. This in itself is the epitome of a high school problem, which in turns shows us how simple and almost carefree high school is. These kids are all figuring out their lives. They have no idea what the next day or month or year will bring. That feeling is enhanced by the fact that no one will ever know. The film ends before anyone ever gets to see what will happen. All that matters is this one night. In my mind, this is what Dazed and Confused is all about. It doesn’t matter what happens next, all that matters is that they are able to live in that moment and experience life while they can, and while it is still simple.
As the film comes to an end, there is one scene that always makes me feel kind of sad. That scene takes place as the party at the moontower comes to a close. As people leave the party, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” plays in the background. It is clear that the film is coming to an end because of the subtle shift in tone. As the scene goes on and we see many characters saying goodbye to one another, it begins to feel as if there is a kind of loss of innocence. After this night, they will all go back to their normal lives and they will inch closer and closer to their senior year, their last year of absolute freedom from the responsibility of adult life. Without fail, everytime I watch Dazed and Confused the film evokes the feeling of a time when things were not so complicated. It points to a time that was all about the freedom to simply have a good time, and although we may not realize it, there is no experience in life quite like high school. The film ends with Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), one of the freshmen characters, putting on his headphones and a huge smile. Then we cut to Pink and his friends on the open road on their way to get Aerosmith tickets. To me, it is the perfect ending to a fantastic film about the reality of high school and all of the freedom it allows.